You have heard the news by now that the strike is over. I was lecturing in Chattanooga and meeting with leaders of the community from 2 pm until now. My brother tweeted to ask why I was behind the curve. Oops, offline.
Pundits and commentators will be poring over the Deep Meaning of all this for weeks and months to come. There will be countless articles about Lessons Learned.
Personally, I think we have a good idea already about why the teachers went on strike. No, it wasn’t greed or money. The compensation piece was more or less settled before the strike. Pundits and talk-show hosts who take home hundreds of thousands a year will express outrage that teachers–teachers!–might make $80,000. I ask you, who adds more social value–a first grade teacher in Chicago or a talk show host on national radio or TV?
Why did they strike? After 17 years of reform and disrespect, they were fed up with the bullying. They were tired of the non-educators and politicians telling them how to teach and imposing their remedies. Reform after reform, and children in Chicago still don’t have the rich curriculum, the facilities, and the social services they need.
They were sick of the incessant school closings. They were sick of seeing charter schools open that get wildly uneven results yet are praised to the skies by Arne Duncan and now Rahm Emanuel. They knew that the charter schools are non-union and that the Mayor will use them to break the union.
In the end, the union pitted itself against Rahm Emanuel, Arne Duncan, Chicago’s business and civic leadership, and the Race to the Top. It took on the most powerful forces in the city, and yes, even President Obama, who remained neutral.
And by taking a stand, by uniting to resist the power elite, these teachers discovered they were strong. They had been downtrodden and disrespected, but no longer. They put on their red T-shirts and commanded the attention of the nation and the admiration of millions of teachers. Powerless no more, they showed that unity made them strong. 98% voted to authorize the strike, and 98% voted to end it.
The union was fortunate in having Karen Lewis as its president. She was one of them. She had taught chemistry in the Chicago public schools for more than 20 years. She is one of the few–perhaps the only–union leader in the nation who is Nationally Board Certified, a mark of her excellence as a teacher.
Not only is she a teacher through and through, she is a graduate of Dartmouth. She is neither impressed nor intimidated by the elites who flaunt their Ivy League credentials. Hers are as good as theirs. Maybe better. She is a woman of valor.
Karen Lewis gave courage to her members, and they gave courage to her.
The strike is one of the few weapons available to the powerless. Without the union, the teachers would have been ignored, and the politicians would be free to keep on reforming them again and again and again.
The strike transformed the teachers from powerless to powerful.
The teachers said, “Enough is enough. With us, not to us.”
Regardless of the terms of the contract, the teachers won.
Thank you, CTU.